The Gospel Coalition Australia


Working deeper for God’s glory

Deep Work Cal Newport

There are lots of books on productivity around, and lots of articles suggesting that we are too easily distracted, one of the major impediments to being productive. Ironically, many of these articles are click-bait on Facebook or LinkedIn, precisely the networking tools that feed our temptation to distraction!

Cal Newport’s book Deep Work does not contain much that is new, but it does collate some really helpful tips, backs them up with research and presents them alongside real-life examples.

Newport suggests four practices to achieve deep work:

Rule #1: Work Deeply (see some of the ideas below)

Rule #2: Embrace Boredom (imagination, play, day dreaming)

Rule #3: Quit Social Media (or schedule social network tools)

Rule #4: Drain the Shallows (wipe out activities that waste time, don’t work too late, become hard to reach)

I decided to test Newport’s theories by employing his tactics in the writing of this book review. So I drove to a remote beach with limited connectivity. I read deeply. I had some exercise in the middle. I took notes while reading, and then I wrote this review. All this was achieved in two and a half hours.

Maybe this is an indication of the success of his book, or my interest in the area, or the fact that the beach was closed due to rough seas, or the general wisdom of his writing. Here is my perspective on what is valuable, and some biblical perspectives.

My main criticism of Newport’s book would be that it is very individual-focused and is motivated by success factors such as financial reward which do not necessarily motivate Christians. Newport is an academic in the information technology sector, so social factors do not rate highly in his analysis. He also has a privileged ability to have flexibility and negotiate his work projects and timing which most of us ordinary workers lack. Maybe there are times and places when our hospitality and interruptability are as important to the way we serve God and people as our intense, focused, productive work.

I do still think, however, that there is a good biblical basis for both the wisdom of disciplining our lives to make room for the sort of “deep work” Newport is suggesting, and (to go beyond what he says) the importance of orienting our work, and all of our lives, toward the pleasures and purposes of God. Both of these things can be seen in the life of Jesus and the singlemindedness with which he focused on the “work” that his Father had given him to do:

KARA MARTIN is Project Leader with Seed, and lectures with Mary Andrews College and is author of Workship: how to use your working to worship God (to be published March, 2017).

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